I am very lucky to have friends who are willing to write reviews for me. Last month I published Scolytinae’s guest review of the London production of Les Misérables. Another friend saw the musical this week, and here are her impressions:
I first saw Les Mis on stage when I was 17 at a local theatre in Yorkshire and have loved it ever since, but it has taken me almost 15 years to see it again. Despite living in London for several years and seeing many plays and musicals during that time, for some unfathomable reason I never went to see Les Mis. Seeing the Matt Lucas “I Dreamed A Dream” documentary was the trigger that finally got me to go and see it in the West End.
Due to a mix up in booking the tickets, I first saw the show in August with Jonathan Williams as Jean Valjean and then again in September with Alfie Boe in the lead role. Since then, I have become slightly addicted to the Les Mis booking website and can now look forward to a further two visits this year alone. I’m hoping for some kind of loyalty discount from Cameron Mackintosh, especially as Ramin Karimloo is joining the cast to take over from Alfie Boe in November.
Thursday night was my third visit. Previously, I had seats in the dress circle and at the back of the stalls, but this time we had front row seats in the stalls at the right hand side. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but we certainly were close to the stage and to the orchestra—perhaps too close to the orchestra, as we could hear the brass section chatting at times. On the plus side, my eye did keep being drawn to the conductor and it was fascinating to see him directing the cast as well as the orchestra—I got a real insight into how much work must go into getting the timing right.
Being so close to the stage meant we could see every facial expression of the cast and that did really add an extra element, particularly in all the Valjean/Javert double handers. However, on the down side, it did mean the cast could make eye contact with us, which was slightly disconcerting. I didn’t quite know where to look when three of the factory workers sang “At the End of the Day” while staring directly into my eyes. Goodness knows what I would have done if Alfie or Hadley had made eye contact……
The heart of the show is undoubtedly Alfie Boe’s Jean Valjean playing against Hadley Fraser’s feral Javert, but this visit I appreciated what an ensemble piece it is, with Eponine, Javert, Marius and Fantine having strong songs of their own. This company is very talented, and I warmed to Caroline Sheen’s Fantine and Lisa-Anne Wood’s portrayal of Cosette much more than previously. Due to the wonders of twitter, I could pick out members of the ensemble, and particular praise should go to Fra Fee and James Charlton—both have amazing voices.
Alfie Boe is sublime as Valjean, but his performance did seem the same as the first time I saw him. There’s nothing I can put my finger on; it may just be that in contrast to all the other major characters, he has not developed the role any further, and there’s certainly no need. Perhaps I’m getting too used to hearing his voice and don’t appreciate him fully. My friend was certainly blown away by the power and control of his singing.
Scott Garnham and Adam Linstead deserve special mention. Scott played Enjolras, as Liam Tamne was away. Leaving aside the fact that the hair & make-up team managed to make a good-looking man unattractive, there was little to fault in his portrayal of Enjolras, and he was more believable in the role than Liam. I would love to see what he would do with the role on a more permanent basis. Adam Linstead’s Grantaire wins the “most improved” award. He has really grown into this role and added a lot to it since I saw him last. He starts as a laid-back bon viveur with the complexities of the character coming out in the emotional barricade scenes.
I was intrigued to see how Cameron Blakely would take on Thénardier—no mean feat to step into Matt Lucas’ shoes. He has kept the role pretty similar and in the first half was easily a match to Matt—his “Master of The House” was superb. However, he didn’t have the necessary menace in the sewer scenes, and the comedy was lacking a bit in the wedding scene. It is early days though, so I will be interested to see how he develops the role.
I have tried to be as objective as I can, but in my eyes, Hadley Fraser can do no wrong. I’ve yet to see anything less than stunning performances in all the YouTube clips, and I was also lucky enough to be at the Phantom 25th Anniversary concert a few weeks ago. I read a recent interview with Hadley where he said he was trying to bring out the animalistic side of Javert. I have to say, he has really developed this side of the character since my last visit. There were times where he really seemed only half-human and more like a feral dog, albeit one with a lot of pent-up anger and confusion. He was quite terrifying to watch from the front row, and I was glad he had a firm grasp of the truncheon, as I would not have wanted that flung across my face.
All in all, it was a fantastic evening. If you like Les Mis or musical theatre in general, this cast is an absolute must-see. I am excited about the prospect of Ramin Karimloo joining. I can’t imagine him as Jean Valjean, but for me that only adds to the anticipation.
I’m not really a fan of hanging around the stage door, but I still managed to act like a crazy fan girl. While waiting for a taxi on the street afterwards, I spotted Hadley walking past us, and I squealed “Oh, there’s Hadley!” to my friend. He looked at me a bit oddly, so I think he heard—oh, the embarrassment…. But then he sloped off into the night, looking very slight and laid-back—quite a difference to the Javert who had been towering over us so menacingly half an hour before.
Thank you, helsbrownie! You’re a star for taking the time to write this for us.
Yes, Ramin Karimloo will be replacing Alfie Boe as Valjean at the end of November, performing six times a week from November 29, 2011, through March 3, 2012. Karimloo and Fraser, together again!